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Posts Tagged ‘UNHCR’

Norway to take in 1 000 Syrian refugees

Posted by African Press International on September 23, 2013

 

“The Government decided today to accept 1 000 Syrian refugees for resettlement to Norway. The war in Syria has led to an acute refugee situation. Syria’s neighbouring countries have taken in close to two million refugees. The capacity of these countries is at breaking point and the UNHCR has appealed to other countries to help,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide.

There is no immediate solution to the conflict in Syria in sight. So far the conflict has led to massive flows of refugees to Syria’s neighbouring countries. In mid-September some 730 000 Syrian refugees were registered in Lebanon, 520 000 were registered in Jordan, 464 000 in Turkey, 117 000 in Iraq and 117 000 in Egypt. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Syria’s neighbouring countries have appealed to countries outside the region to resettle some of the refugees currently living in Syria’s neighbouring countries as a matter of urgency.

“Syria’s neighbouring countries have displayed an enormous sense of responsibility for the refugees from Syria. One in every four people in Lebanon is now a Syrian refugee. Syria’s neighbouring countries, in particular Lebanon and Jordan, are reaching the limit of what they can cope with. If nothing is done, they may choose to close their borders. It is therefore crucial that Norway and other like-minded countries show solidarity and take in Syrian refugees,” Mr Eide said.

Following calls from UNHCR, Norway has provided substantial aid to help Syrian refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries. Since the start of the conflict in Syria in 2011, Norway has provided a total of NOK 850 million in humanitarian aid.

The further quota of 1 000 refugees from Syria will come in addition to Norway’s annual UNHCR resettlement quota of approximately 1 200 refugees.

“Norway has a tradition of doing what it can in response to major international refugee crises and of providing a safe haven for refugees. This time is no exception. We know that Norwegian municipalities will make every effort to take in and integrate these refugees. As a country we can be proud of this and we will do everything we can to support the municipalities in this process,” said Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion Inga Marte Thorkildsen.

The additional resettlement quota that the Government has decided to establish is reserved for refugees from Syria who are recognised by UNHCR, preferably those living in Lebanon and Jordan. The total cost of the quota is estimated to be approximately NOK 770 million.

 

 

End

/MFA

 

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The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) needs to constantly innovate to respond to new and ongoing refugee crises around the world

Posted by African Press International on September 11, 2013

UNHCR has struggled to deliver services to urban refugees

JOHANNESBURG,  – When an organization has thousands of staff based in offices all over the world, sharing new ideas – let alone implementing them – is no small task.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) – an organization with nearly 8,000 staff members working in 126 countries – needs to constantly innovate to respond to new and ongoing refugee crises around the world, but the extensive knowledge of its field-based staff members often goes untapped.

In August, the agency launched UNHCR Ideas, an initiative that uses crowd-sourcing technology to connect employees, partners and beneficiaries using a platform that allows them to share and discuss ideas for tackling some of the organization’s most pressing problems.

Rocco Nuri, communications officer with UNHCR Innovation, a recently launched unit within the agency, told IRIN that the crowd-sourcing tool, developed by California-based software developer Spigit, “allows us to take a bottom-up approach to identifying, validating and implementing refugee-centred solutions”.

The initial step involves issuing a “challenge” to participants, who include UNHCR staff, partners, refugee experts and a handful of refugees – an issue of concern for some rights advocates. The participants submit ideas, which can be viewed, commented on and voted for by other participants.

After four weeks, the top 20 ideas are evaluated by a panel of experts, who provide feedback on how participants might tweak or strengthen their proposals. A final review stage will then select the best idea for research or piloting by UNHCR Innovation.

Assisting urban refugees

The first challenge to be debated on the new crowd-sourcing platform is how to improve access to information and services for refugees living in urban areas. Connecting and communicating with urban refugees presents a major challenge, said Nuri, “not only because they are scattered across sprawling cities, but also because poverty and unstable tenancy arrangements force them to move frequently.”

Three weeks into the process, over 100 ideas have been submitted and voted on. The most popular so far include: the development of a comic-book series aimed at young refugees that could tackle issues such as child abuse; country-focused online portals aimed at providing essential information to refugees; and the use of university students to deliver legal aid services.

“There’s definitely trends,” observed Anahi Ayala Iacucci, a senior innovation advisor with international non-profit media organization Internews, who is one of 10 experts reviewing the ideas. “There are a lot of ideas focusing on providing information through web sites or mobile technology. But there are also some ideas that are very out-of-the-box.”

Crowd-sourcing humanitarian solutions

Internews is another large organization that has made use of crowd-sourcing to solicit ideas from its employees for projects it can pilot.

“It allows people to interact with each other, to have a conversation; it’s not just like sending an email”

“We did it because when you have a large organization and a lot of people working in different contexts and sometimes very focused on their daily jobs, you don’t have time to connect with people working for the same organization,” said Iacucci. “It allows people to interact with each other, to have a conversation; it’s not just like sending out an email.”

Crowd-sourcing is being used in other humanitarian contexts, and within other UN agencies, including the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), to map and respond to emergencies, but there are concerns about the volume and integrity of information generated in this way.

“Crowd-sourcing for ideas rather than as part of a response to an emergency is probably considered less risky and a good place to start,” said Iacucci, who, in addition to her role at Internews, is co-founder of the Standby Task Force, which makes use of digital volunteers to do crisis mapping.

She added that customized platforms such as the one UNHCR was using were not always necessary, depending on the scale and complexity of the project. “We’ve used a free blogging site; it’s much less fancy but it has exactly the same functionality. In terms of crowd-sourcing, there are lots of options.”

Hearing refugee voices

The issue of how to reach out to and assist urban refugees, who now make up 58 percent of refugees worldwide, had been the subject of much debate both within and outside of UNHCR for some time before the launch of UNHCR Ideas.

The adoption of a new urban refugee policy by UNHCR in 2009 was widely welcomed as a move away from a bias towards assisting primarily camp-based refugees. However, in recent months, a number of commentators have used an online forum, launched by the NGO Urban Refugees earlier this year, to express disappointment about the degree to which the policy has been implemented.
One of the biggest disappointments, according to Tim Morris, an expert on refugee affairs who co-authored one of the posts on Urban Refugees, has been “the lack of the voice of refugees in urban environments”.

“There was much talk of enabling this when the new policy was launched, but hardly anything seems to have happened. It seems to me this is a huge gap,” he wrote in an email to IRIN in July.

Of the 300 people participating in the current UNHCR Ideas challenge, only 10 are refugees. Nuri explained that the number of users, both staff and refugees, would increase for future challenges, after the new platform had been thoroughly tested and evaluated.

“I am happy to see UNHCR getting involved in innovation and trying to use new tools to find solutions,” commented Sonia Ben Ali, founder and chairperson of Urban Refugees. “Intervention in urban contexts requires creative thinking, and this is an interesting attempt to do so.

“As a complement to that, in-depth discussions also need to happen within UNHCR (at the field and HQ levels) and between UNHCR and other stakeholders on certain issues requiring more than just technical innovations to be solved.”

ks/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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– Countries around the world are increasingly responding to influxes of irregular migrants and asylum seekers by simply locking them up

Posted by African Press International on September 2, 2013

– Countries around the world are increasingly responding to influxes of irregular migrants and asylum seekers by simply locking them up. States cite national security concerns and suggest that such punitive measures will make undocumented migrants and asylum seekers think twice before entering their territory.

In reality, there is no evidence that the threat of detention is a deterrent against irregular migration or that it discourages people from seeking asylum. But there is plenty of evidence that it is detrimental to the physical and mental health of nearly everyone who experiences it.

Civil society groups have been particularly vocal about the negative consequences of detention on children and other vulnerable groups, while the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has pointed out that under the 1951 Refugee Convention, it is unlawful to penalize asylum seekers for illegal entry or stay provided they present themselves to the authorities without delay.

But in the current economic climate, it is the mounting cost of detention that is giving many governments pause. Grant Mitchell, director of the International Detention Coalition (IDC), an umbrella organization with 300 member groups in 50 countries, said that while there continues to be “massive growth” in detention in a number of countries, “equally, we’re seeing a lot of states that have been using detention for 15 or 20 years finding it to be increasingly expensive and hard to manage and not working as a way to deter people.”

Changes in thinking

A recent report by the National Immigration Forum found that the US will spend over US$5 million a day on immigration detention during the fiscal year 2013/14, based on its current capacity of 31,800 detention beds. But the approximately $159 per day that it costs to detain a migrant in the US is relatively low compared to the $210 per day that the Canadian Border Services Agency pays for a bed in a provincial jail or the incredible $540 per day that Sweden spends on keeping someone in one of its detention centres.

Alternatives to detention, even those that include the provision of housing and various kinds of support, come in at a fraction of the cost.

“There’s potentially huge savings,” said Philip Amarel of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Europe, who authored a 2011 report examining alternatives to detention. “Before the recession, the economic argument wasn’t so compelling because [detention] was seen as a necessary cost to bear. Now states are becoming more interested in the cost argument,” he told IRIN.

“We’re seeing a lot of states that have been using detention for 15 or 20 years finding it increasingly expensive and hard to manage”

States are also increasingly legally bound to use detention only as a last resort, particularly in the case of asylum seekers and children. Last year, UNHCR released new guidelines relating to the detention of asylum seekers that emphasized the unlawfulness of “arbitrary” detention in which less coercive alternatives have not been considered. The European Union Return Directive also stipulates that member states should not use detention if “other sufficient but less coercive measures can be applied”. Still, Amarel noted that while many EU states have since written alternatives to detention into their laws, most are not implementing them in practice.

“They fear that migrants will abscond given the chance, despite the evidence that if you have alternatives to detention that provide comprehensive services and legal assistance and inform them of all the possible outcomes that might come of their case, then compliance rates really jump up,” he said. “Member states are also not at a place yet where they can provide good alternatives to detention, largely because they don’t know how or aren’t willing to invest resources. It’s not good enough to just release people onto the streets into destitution.”

JRS defines alternatives to migration as “any policy, practice or legislation that allows asylum seekers and migrants to live in the community with freedom of movement… while they undertake to resolve their migration status and/or while awaiting removal from the territory.”

New models

Various models are being tried in different countries, with varying levels of efficacy. “We didn’t find one country with the perfect model, but we found a lot of good practices that can be combined to make effective programmes,” said Mitchell of the IDC, which has produced a handbook on preventing unnecessary immigration detention.

He added that all of the most successful programmes shared common elements, such as the provision of adequate material support, early access to free legal advice and a case management system that keeps migrants informed at every stage. “A lot of governments think that legal advice can bog down a claim, when in fact our research found that early legal advice and intervention reduces the time to complete a case and increases chances of voluntary return.”

“Treating people humanely and fairly at the very beginning means they’ll engage properly with the process,” agreed Alice Edwards, chief of UNHCR’s protection policy and legal advice section, who wrote a 2011 paper on alternatives to detention.

Both Edwards and Mitchell cited a model used in Belgium as an example of a best practice. The programme houses irregular migrants and asylum seekers with children in government-owned apartments pending the outcome of their cases. Each family is assigned a “coach” who explains the immigration process, ensures their basic needs are met and makes appointments with doctors, lawyers and the immigration authorities.

“The primary goal is to persuade families to return voluntarily, but it’s not the only goal,” explained Geert Verbauwhede, an advisor with Belgium’s Immigration Office. “For us, it’s also a positive outcome if they obtain a staying permit.”

The programme, which started in 2008, remains fairly small, with only 25 family units, but Verbauwhede said that in the future, the coaching or case management element of the programme could also be used for migrants living in their own housing.

In Sweden, a similar alternative to detention is used for asylum seekers, around 24,000 of whom are housed in apartments managed by the Swedish Migration Board and another 13,000 of whom live with relatives or in their own accommodation. Upon arrival, they are assigned a case officer who handles their asylum application and a reception officer who helps them with everyday needs, such as finding schools for their children and making sure they receive a subsistence allowance.

“If people feel they’ve been taken care of and their case has been properly scrutinized, they’re more likely to accept the outcome,” Niclas Axelsson, a specialist in detention issues with the Swedish Migration Board, told IRIN. “It’s about good behaviour management and treating people with respect and having good communication with them.”

Sweden still maintains nine small detention units in five cities, but detention is primarily used for asylum seekers who refuse to accept a negative decision and return home voluntarily. “We don’t want to use detention unless it’s necessary,” said Axelsson.

A Toronto-based non-profit called the Toronto Bail Programme (TBP) makes uses of a slightly different model. In Canada, over 90 percent of asylum seekers are released into the community with minimal conditions that may include payment of bail. For those unable to afford the bail amount or considered to be a flight risk, a request may be sent to the TBP asking the programme to take them on as a client. As a substitute for bail, TBP provides professional supervision at a cost of just over $9 a day to about 312 clients. The clients, who include irregular migrants as well as asylum seekers, are initially required to report to the TBP office twice a week.

“If they prove to us they’re doing something constructive with their time, then we can minimize reporting,” said Dave Scott, TBP’s founder and executive director.

Most of the asylum seekers qualify for work permits, but TBP also helps them apply for welfare benefits and social services. Clients with mental health or addiction problems receive additional supervision from qualified staff. TBP’s lost client ratio for the 2012/13 fiscal year was just under 5 percent, well below the 10 percent stipulated by the Canadian Border Services Agency.

Scott’s pragmatic approach includes careful screening of potential clients. “I ask, ‘Should this person be released without conditions?’ Also, I don’t want to get involved with people who are about to be removed or serious criminality cases,” he told IRIN. “I’m not the Catholic Church or the Salvation Army.”

Humane approaches

According to Amarel of JRS, alternatives to detention programmes that have been less successful are those that are only used when detention centres reach capacity or when a refused asylum seeker faces imminent removal.

“This has been a failure of a programme in the UK, where they start at the end stage when the outcome has already been decided,” he said. “It doesn’t work when the authorities don’t give migrants the chance to explore all possible outcomes from the start.”

Successful alternatives to detention programmes share almost identical outcomes, according to the IDC’s research. These include an average cost savings of around 80 percent compared to detention and an average compliance rate of 95 percent, meaning that very few of the migrants fail to comply with reporting requirements or do not show up for court appearances.

For Axelsson of the Swedish Migration Board, replicating successful programmes in other countries depends on having not only the appropriate policies and resources, but also the political will. “If you look at [asylum seekers] as criminals, I think perhaps you’ll have a problem,” he said.

“It’s important that you try to change perspectives and ask yourself, ‘If I was in the applicant’s shoes, how would I like to be treated?’”

ks/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Technology can help reach disaster-hit communities

Posted by African Press International on August 27, 2013

Technology can help reach disaster-hit communities

DAKAR,  – Difficulty reaching conflict- or disaster-hit communities slows down aid delivery, hampers assessment and can lead to groups in remote areas being left out of the aid equation altogether. But new technology, while not a panacea, is helping to remove access barriers.

Aid agencies are increasingly seeking innovative solutions to old challenges. For example, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has teamed up with technology firm Spigit to launch “UNHCR Ideas”, an ideas lab where staff, refugees, academics and partners can brainstorm and crowd-source solutions to common problems. Their first challenge is improving access to information and services for urban refugees; the winning idea will be piloted in 2014.

Olivier DelaRue, UNHCR head of innovations, said: “We hope this project will give a voice primarily to refugees, because the solutions are very often with them. What we are trying to achieve is a higher degree of empowerment, a higher degree of self-reliance, in order to increase dignity.”

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also set up ideas labs to stimulate new approaches. Labs are currently at work in Denmark, Kosovo, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Below, IRIN explores five access innovations being piloted by aid agencies.

Digital school in a box

UNICEF is piloting a digital school-in-a-box project in Uganda. Sixty schools, each with between 100 and 200 children, have received a pack containing a solar-powered laptop with internet connectivity, a projector, a speaker and a document camera. The idea is to connect rural schools to wider learning networks and tools. The equipment can also be used to link remote communities to health resources, emergency information and entertainment.

UNICEF currently procures the equipment from different suppliers, but says it is seeking to have the kits manufactured in Uganda. Finding low-cost, high-quality equipment and training community members on maintenance are keys to the success of the project, the agency says.

Mobile phones to assess food insecurity

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) uses a process called Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) to gather accurate data about how many people are food insecure, who and where they are, and how their situation came about. In the past, much VAM information was collected through on-the-ground, face-to-face interviews, but these can be slow, expensive and at times impractical, particularly in remote communities or when access is hampered by natural disasters, poor roads or violence.

WFP is now piloting a mobile VAM (mVAM) project to survey communities via SMS polls, which ask people simple questions about food availability and meal patterns to gather key data about the levels of food insecurity.

“With barely any roads, or seriously damaged ones, collecting data on food security and monitoring the situation is a real logistical challenge. [mVAM] has the potential to be a quicker and more cost-effective way of gathering data, allowing us to us to assist faster those people who need our emergency supplies most,” said Koffi Akakpo, head of WFP’s VAM unit in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where a pilot of this programme was conducted in January. The plan is to extend the pilot to other locations in DRC and also to try it in Somalia.

The agency has secured funding from the Humanitarian Innovation Foundation (HIF), a grant facility of the Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance (ELRHA) programme, which supports organizations and individuals developing innovative and scalable solutions for humanitarian challenges.

Mobile phone apps to trace missing children

Reuniting children with their families in the aftermath of a natural disaster or conflict, known as Family Tracing and Reunification (FTR), has long involved hand-written lists, which can be a slow and inefficient process. Now UNICEF is trying a RapidFTR system, which uses an open-source mobile phone application that was conceived from a master’s thesis and brought to reality by ThoughtWorks, an IT consulting firm.

Unaccompanied children are logged and photographed, and their details instantly uploaded to a central database that can be shared with other UN agencies and NGOs. Parents can then consult the database to see if their missing children have been registered and, if so, to find their whereabouts.

Kim Scriven, a manager at HIF, which is also funding this project, said: “This is replacing what was previously done on paper with printed photographs and photocopied lists. That used to take weeks, or even months to centralize, but now it is done instantaneously using mobile phones and the internet.”

RapidFTR uses the kinds of security measures employed by mobile banking programmes to ensure that sensitive data about vulnerable children, especially photographs, are only accessible by authorized users.

A pilot of this project is currently being carried out by the Uganda Red Cross and Save the Children in the Nyakabande transit centre and Rwamwanja refugee camp in eastern Uganda, where many displaced people from DRC have sought refuge.

3D printing to create spare parts

Officially known as “rapid prototyping”, 3D printing sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but in fact it offers real and potentially sustainable solutions for communities in the developing world and those affected by disasters.

In 3D printing, a three-dimensional model of an object is scanned and digitally stored, then shared, downloaded and printed out, one thin layer of material – usually plastic – at a time.

This is giving remote communities unprecedented access to things like irrigation pipes, agricultural tools, water pumps, wind turbine blades and health aids, all items that previously would have had to be imported at great time and expense.

William Hoyle, CEO of techfortrade, a UK-based charity that aims to find technological solutions to trade and development challenges, told IRIN: “Printer costs are coming down, mobile phones are the new computer and internet access is widening, so the opportunities are endless.

“Many developing companies struggle to source spare parts for machinery, but the idea that you just make a spare part by downloading a file and printing it out really changes everything,” he said.

Hoyle said techfortrade was in talks with a company in India to recycle plastic to make filament, for use in a 3D-printing project to make farm tools. “Waste plastic is everywhere, and if you can put it to good use then that is environmentally sustainable as well.”

In May, global experts and innovators met in Trieste, Italy, at an event hosted by the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics to discuss how low-cost 3D printing could be used for science, education and sustainable development.

Pooling malnutrition information

A number of organizations, including Save the Children UK, WFP and Concern Worldwide, are using the Minimum Reporting Package (MRP), a monitoring and reporting tool that allows organizations to collect and pool standardized data on emergency Supplementary Feeding Programmes (SFPs), which treat moderate severe malnutrition.

MRP not only allows aid and humanitarian agencies to better monitor the effectiveness of emergency SFPs, it also allows them to quickly deliver standardized information to donors and governments in times of crisis.

lr/jl/aj/ob/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

 

 

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The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also set up ideas labs to stimulate new approaches. Labs are currently at work in Denmark, Kosovo, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Posted by African Press International on August 25, 2013

DAKAR,  – Difficulty reaching conflict- or disaster-hit communities slows down aid delivery, hampers assessment and can lead to groups in remote areas being left out of the aid equa tion altogether. But new technology, while not a panacea, is helping to remove access barriers.

Aid agencies are increasingly seeking innovative solutions to old challenges. For example, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has teamed up with technology firm Spigit to launch “UNHCR Ideas”, an ideas lab where staff, refugees, academics and partners can brainstorm and crowd-source solutions to common problems. Their first challenge is improving access to information and services for urban refugees; the winning idea will be piloted in 2014.

Olivier DelaRue, UNHCR head of innovations, said: “We hope this project will give a voice primarily to refugees, because the solutions are very often with them. What we are trying to achieve is a higher degree of empowerment, a higher degree of self-reliance, in order to increase dignity.”

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also set up ideas labs to stimulate new approaches. Labs are currently at work in Denmark, Kosovo, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Below, IRIN explores five access innovations being piloted by aid agencies.

Digital school in a box

UNICEF is piloting a digital school-in-a-box project in Uganda. Sixty schools, each with between 100 and 200 children, have received a pack containing a solar-powered laptop with internet connectivity, a projector, a speaker and a document camera. The idea is to connect rural schools to wider learning networks and tools. The equipment can also be used to link remote communities to health resources, emergency information and entertainment.

UNICEF currently procures the equipment from different suppliers, but says it is seeking to have the kits manufactured in Uganda. Finding low-cost, high-quality equipment and training community members on maintenance are keys to the success of the project, the agency says.

Mobile phones to assess food insecurity

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) uses a process called Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) to gather accurate data about how many people are food insecure, who and where they are, and how their situation came about. In the past, much VAM information was collected through on-the-ground, face-to-face interviews, but these can be slow, expensive and at times impractical, particularly in remote communities or when access is hampered by natural disasters, poor roads or violence.

WFP is now piloting a mobile VAM (mVAM) project to survey communities via SMS polls, which ask people simple questions about food availability and meal patterns to gather key data about the levels of food insecurity.

“With barely any roads, or seriously damaged ones, collecting data on food security and monitoring the situation is a real logistical challenge. [mVAM] has the potential to be a quicker and more cost-effective way of gathering data, allowing us to us to assist faster those people who need our emergency supplies most,” said Koffi Akakpo, head of WFP’s VAM unit in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where a pilot of this programme was conducted in January. The plan is to extend the pilot to other locations in DRC and also to try it in Somalia.

The agency has secured funding from the Humanitarian Innovation Foundation (HIF), a grant facility of the Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance (ELRHA) programme, which supports organizations and individuals developing innovative and scalable solutions for humanitarian challenges.

Mobile phone apps to trace missing children

Reuniting children with their families in the aftermath of a natural disaster or conflict, known as Family Tracing and Reunification (FTR), has long involved hand-written lists, which can be a slow and inefficient process. Now UNICEF is trying a RapidFTR system, which uses an open-source mobile phone application that was conceived from a master’s thesis and brought to reality by ThoughtWorks, an IT consulting firm.

Unaccompanied children are logged and photographed, and their details instantly uploaded to a central database that can be shared with other UN agencies and NGOs. Parents can then consult the database to see if their missing children have been registered and, if so, to find their whereabouts.

Kim Scriven, a manager at HIF, which is also funding this project, said: “This is replacing what was previously done on paper with printed photographs and photocopied lists. That used to take weeks, or even months to centralize, but now it is done instantaneously using mobile phones and the internet.”

RapidFTR uses the kinds of security measures employed by mobile banking programmes to ensure that sensitive data about vulnerable children, especially photographs, are only accessible by authorized users.

A pilot of this project is currently being carried out by the Uganda Red Cross and Save the Children in the Nyakabande transit centre and Rwamwanja refugee camp in eastern Uganda, where many displaced people from DRC have sought refuge.

3D printing to create spare parts

Officially known as “rapid prototyping”, 3D printing sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but in fact it offers real and potentially sustainable solutions for communities in the developing world and those affected by disasters.

In 3D printing, a three-dimensional model of an object is scanned and digitally stored, then shared, downloaded and printed out, one thin layer of material – usually plastic – at a time.

This is giving remote communities unprecedented access to things like irrigation pipes, agricultural tools, water pumps, wind turbine blades and health aids, all items that previously would have had to be imported at great time and expense.

William Hoyle, CEO of techfortrade, a UK-based charity that aims to find technological solutions to trade and development challenges, told IRIN: “Printer costs are coming down, mobile phones are the new computer and internet access is widening, so the opportunities are endless.

“Many developing companies struggle to source spare parts for machinery, but the idea that you just make a spare part by downloading a file and printing it out really changes everything,” he said.

Hoyle said techfortrade was in talks with a company in India to recycle plastic to make filament, for use in a 3D-printing project to make farm tools. “Waste plastic is everywhere, and if you can put it to good use then that is environmentally sustainable as well.”

In May, global experts and innovators met in Trieste, Italy, at an event hosted by the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics to discuss how low-cost 3D printing could be used for science, education and sustainable development.

Pooling malnutrition information

A number of organizations, including Save the Children UK, WFP and Concern Worldwide, are using the Minimum Reporting Package (MRP), a monitoring and reporting tool that allows organizations to collect and pool standardized data on emergency Supplementary Feeding Programmes (SFPs), which treat moderate severe malnutrition.

MRP not only allows aid and humanitarian agencies to better monitor the effectiveness of emergency SFPs, it also allows them to quickly deliver standardized information to donors and governments in times of crisis.

lr/jl/aj/ob/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

 

 

Posted in AA > News and News analysis | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Tents have long played an essential role

Posted by African Press International on August 7, 2013

 – Tents have long played an essential role in the emergency phase of humanitarian responses to refugee influxes. They are relatively light and cheap, and they can be stockpi led, flown in and erected in a short timeframe. But as anyone who has slept in one can attest, tents also have major shortcomings – they provide minimal protection from climatic extremes, offer little space or comfort, and deteriorate quickly.

The average stay in a refugee camp is now 12 years, but at the beginning of a refugee crisis there is no way of knowing how soon refugees will be able to return home, and host governments are wary of shelters that suggest permanence. This presents a conundrum for the humanitarian sector, which has been trying for years to come up with a shelter that ticks off all the necessary boxes, including logistical concerns such as cost and ease of transport and assembly, as well as cultural, environmental and political considerations that vary from one country and refugee context to another.“There is no one solution to [refugee] shelter; there’s no single tent or shelter that can answer all the needs,” said Tom Corsellis, who is the president and co-founder of the Geneva-based Shelter Centre and a pioneer in the field of developing shelter solutions for disasters and displacement.

While there has been no shortage of alternative refugee shelter designs, few have made it to the field-testing stage, and even fewer have had the financial and institutional backing to be brought to market.

It is not surprising then, that the launch of a prototype shelter resulting from a partnership between the IKEA Foundation, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Refugee Housing Unit (RHU), a subsidiary of the non-profit Swedish Industrial Design Foundation, has been met with intense interest.

Housing kit

The collaboration brings together UNHCR’s long experience in and access to the refugee sector, with the Swedish furnishing giant’s funding and management support and RHU’s design and manufacturing expertise. The result resembles a large garden shed; RHU project manager Johan Karlsson describes it as a modular design consisting of a light-weight steel frame onto which polymer panels can be attached to form vertical walls and a pitched roof. Karlsson explained that in an emergency situation, the steel frames could be distributed separately and used with plastic sheeting or locally available materials.

“One great challenge is the assembly. Basically it’s like an IKEA product, but it’s quite complex”

“It was very much a requirement from UNHCR that we start with a self-supporting frame that other materials could be added on to,” Karlsson told IRIN. “The panels would come into place when you have protracted situations and you know there’s a great chance the refugees will be staying for a longer period of time and you’re not allowed to build anything more permanent.”

The “full kit” also includes a shade net to reflect the sun during the day and to retain heat at night and a solar panel that provides the shelter with power. While the panels last up to three years, the steel frame can last for 10, if correctly assembled. This is an important caveat, according to Karlsson, and something that is about to be assessed as the prototype begins six months of field testing at Dollo Ado refugee camp in Ethiopia and at sites in northern Iraq and Lebanon.

“One great challenge is the assembly. Basically it’s like an IKEA product, but it’s quite complex. The idea is that we’ll provide training to a group of beneficiaries and then they’ll build the other houses… The ultimate goal is that a refugee family can do it themselves,” Karlsson said.

Using local materials, skill

Although the prototype has undergone extensive technical testing in Holland, it remains to be seen how the design will be received by refugees themselves. Karlsson anticipates that, following the field testing, modifications will have to be made before the shelter is ready for market.

The next step will be to find a company or companies willing to finance the shelter’s production and to secure sizeable orders from UNHCR or other agencies involved in the provision of temporary shelters. For now, the cost of the full kit comes in at around US$1,000, with the steel frame alone costing about $250.

“It is cost effective, especially if you just start with the frame and upgrade with local materials,” said Karlsson. “Even if you ship in the full kit, this will last three years, and a tent will only last for six months to one year” and then have to be replaced.

Corsellis of the Shelter Centre said that in every refugee shelter operation, the goal is to build shelters using traditional designs and methods, using local materials, local skills and local tools in order to contribute to the local economy and minimize potential tensions with host communities.

“The only reason we ever use tents is if the refugee influx is so high or access to local materials is so poor that we’re unable to use them. When we do have to use tentage, it’s to buy time to be able to use local skills and resources, [but] the length of time existing tentage lasts for is often not long enough to return there and offer better shelter. The cost of those tents, as they degrade, is lost completely,” Corsellis said.

The Shelter Centre has developed its own shelter prototype, with support from the UK and US governments. It also makes use of a metal frame in a rectangular plan, but without the semi-rigid panels. The frame could be flown in, together with a fly-sheet and covering liner, and eventually the shelter could be upgraded with mud or timber walls and corrugated iron roofing.

“This additional generation of shelters [is] far more suitable for winterization,” said Corsellis, adding that the shelters would also fare better in environments such as Dadaab in northern Kenya, the largest refugee complex in the world, where high winds and intense sun shorten a tent’s lifespan.

Sensitivities

An initiative by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and UNHCR to use a technology called Interlocking Stabilised Soil Blocks (ISSB) to build more durable shelters for refugees at Dadaab, many of whom have lived there for decades, was stopped by the Kenyan government in 2012 because it was viewed as too permanent.

In the context of such political sensitivities, shelters such the IKEA and Shelter Centre prototypes – which could be taken down, moved or even taken with refugees when they return home for use while they rebuild permanent shelters – have obvious benefits.

Corsellis emphasized that tents or tent-like shelters are used for only a small proportion of refugees – about 10 percent of the total 10.4 million refugees of concern to UNHCR at the beginning of 2012. The majority of refugees make use of other options, such as staying with host families, renting in urban areas or self-settling in rural areas.

“We need to broaden our vocabulary of shelter options, and this IKEA prototype is a positive direction. And hopefully the final result will be a range of different options, understanding that any stockpiled shelter should be used for only a small percentage of people affected by conflicts and disasters, as part of humanitarian operations,” he said.

Endks/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees costs $500,000 a day to run

Posted by African Press International on July 29, 2013

Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees, seen here in the foreground of Jordanian villages and towns, costs $500,000 a day to run

ZA’ATARI,  – Just on the other side of Jordan’s Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees, now one of the world’s most notorious camps, lies another Za’atari: a poor village inhabited by some 12,000 Jordanians.

“If I were given a tent like this, I would cherish it and protect it,” said villager Hamda Masaeed, while pointing at the ever-growing mass of tents with the logo of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) stretching from the Syrian camp into the heart of the village of Za’atari, from which the camp got its name.

The seventy-year-old lives with two sons and seven grandchildren, also in a tent – but she built hers herself using pipes, blankets and the remains of wheat bags. It is old and tattered; one side was recently burned; and she does not own the land it sits on.

What she does own are three worn-out mattresses, a one-ring stove, and an old fridge that works only when there is electricity. Masaeed siphons electricity from her neighbour for six Jordanian dinars (US$8.50) a month, but if often cuts out.

She and other residents of the village have watched as the Syrian camp has grown over the past year to become home to some 120,000 refugees.

“It is a massive city in the heart of our little village now,” she told IRIN.

According to the social council of the municipality, the village itself has so far taken in 3,000 Syrian refugees.

Refugees do not by any means live lives of luxury: camp life is harsh and unlike the locals, they have had to endure the long journey of displacement and the psychological trauma of losing loved ones.

But only one main road divides the two Za’ataris; and while trucks carry food, blankets, clothes and medicine to Syrian refugees in the camp, the other Za’atari remains “forgotten”.

“Don’t they realize that we need help too?” Masaeed asked.

It is not only donations that pass by Masaeed’s tent, but also international journalists, aid workers, diplomats, and the world’s top officials.

One taxi driver told IRIN he deliberately drives visiting journalists through Za’atari village before dropping them at the camp, to show them that poverty also exists on the other side of the camp.

“People come from all parts of the world to write about the conditions of Syrian refugees, but these people [villagers] are also living in miserable conditions,” said Iyad Salhi, a driver from the capital Amman.

In the village, there is one mosque, two schools, and a small charity – the Za’atari Charitable Society – that “operates occasionally in Ramadan”. Its office doors were shut when IRIN passed by and no one answered the phone.

While complaints about a perceived shortage of water by residents of the Syrian camp have made it to local and international media, residents of the other Za’atari have to beg truck drivers to stop to sell them water. As in many other parts of Jordan, government-supplied water is not regular.

“They drive past us every day. Although we are paying for water, they do not sell it to us. They prefer to [sign contracts with] the camp,” said Mohammad Masaeed, Hamda’s son.

“Some promise us to come back, but they never do,” he added.

Protest in Za’atari village

This month, local media reported that gendarmerie forces quelled a protest by residents of Za’atari village when they went to demand jobs inside the camp.

Hamda Masaeed sits in her makeshift tent in Za’atari village

UNHCR says the local community has benefited, if insufficiently, from the camp economy: some people have been hired as contractors and workers in the camp.

But Nadia Salameh says she was recently laid off from a cleaner’s job at the camp to be replaced by refugees.

“They recruited us on a temporary basis, but then they gave the jobs to Syrians,” she said.

“It is so unfair when they [Syrians] receive everything for free, but we have to pay for food, gas, clothes, and rent,” she told IRIN.

Aid agencies working with poor Jordanians say they struggle to help them now.

“Donors’ attention has been focused on Syrians. They ignored the locals, who have always lived in poverty,” said Abdullah Zubi, programme coordinator at the Hashemite Fund for Human Development. “Keep in mind numbers of needy Jordanian families are increasing.”

He said his organization, a semi-governmental development organization, has been gradually reducing the number of needy families they are helping during Ramadan, when Muslims usually increase their charitable giving.

“We were able to help some 1,800 Jordanian families with packages of food every Ramadan, but as donors have been reducing their donations, we can only help 500 families this year,” he told IRIN.

International aid agencies are increasingly looking to provide assistance to local communities to avoid tensions with Syrian refugees.

UNHCR, through International Relief and Development (IRD), has provided services in the community, including improved public transport facilities and sanitation equipment. UNHCR has also supported the Ministry of Health in providing health services there.

The NGO Mercy Corps has set up community dialogues to try to address social cohesion and peaceful coexistence. It is also implementing a $20 million project – funded by the US Agency for International Development – to improve water delivery in northern Jordan, including Za’atari village.

But the needs are large – the most cited are a waste water network, a new school and better health facilities. Humanitarian agencies responding to the Syrian crisis are already having to prioritize due to rising refugee needs and insufficient funding and aid workers says donor funding for host communities is always hardest to come by.

Sad twist

In a sad twist, some Syrian refugees are now donating to poor Jordanians, or selling them extra food they receive from aid agencies at a discounted price. In Mafraq, the governorate in which the two Za’ataris are located, food blankets, tents, and other items with UNHCR logos are publicly for sale.

That is how Um Saleem, a Jordanian resident of Mafraq, has coped over the last two years, as previous donations from generous Jordanians have slowed.

Um Saleem’s kitchen

IRIN visited her as she was cooking a chicken given her by a Syrian woman living in her neighbourhood. It was the first time she had eaten meat in a month.

When Hajjar Ahmad, a Syrian refugee who lives in Za’atari camp, visited her sister in a village in Mafraq, she was “astonished” how much poverty she saw. She gave her sister extra food and blankets to distribute to Jordanians.

“We are living better than them,” Ahmad said.

aa/ha/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

end

 

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No consensus on implementation

Posted by African Press International on July 24, 2013

Many Rwandan refugees have lived in host countries for decades (file photo)

KAMPALA/JOHANNESBURG,  – The future of tens of thousands of Rwandan refugees living in Africa remains uncertain nearly two weeks after the 30 June deadline recommended by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) for the discontinuation of their refugee status.

UNHCR has recommended countries invoke the “ceased circumstances”clause for Rwandans who fled their country between 1959 and 1998. The cessation clause forms part of the 1951 Refugee Convention and can be applied when fundamental and durable changes in a refugee’s country of origin, such that they no longer have a well-founded fear of persecution, remove the need for international protection. Both UNHCR and the Rwandan government have pointed out that since the end of the civil war and the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has been peaceful, and more than three million exiled Rwandans have returned home.

However, many of the estimated 100,000 Rwandans who continue to live outside the country – mainly in eastern, central and southern Africa – remain unwilling to repatriate, citing fear of persecution by the government. Refugee rights organizations have also warned that human rights abuses by the current government have caused a continued exodus of Rwandan asylum seekers.

“We have been told time and again that Rwanda is safe and there might be some truth in that. However, one wonders why the call for cessation is happening while there are still people who are seeking asylum,” Dismas Nkunda, co-director of the International Refugee Rights Initiative, told IRIN.

Differing views on protection

So far only four countries in Africa – Malawi, the Republic of Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe – have followed UNHCR’s recommendation to invoke the cessation clause, a fact that, according to Nkunda, “speaks volumes” about how different African countries view this group’s need for protection.

In an article in the July issue of a newsletter produced by the Fahamu Refugee Programme, a refugee legal aid group, John Cacharani and Guillaume Cliche-Rivard accused UNHCR of pressuring states to follow its recommendation, “holding hostage the fate of more than 100,000 Rwandan refugees who, of their own volition, have decided not to repatriate, yet continue to fear the end of their international protection.”

“One wonders why the call for cessation is happening while there are still people who are seeking asylum”

But in response to questions from IRIN, Clementine Nkweta-Salami, UNHCR regional representative for southern Africa, emphasized, “It is the responsibility and prerogative of states to declare the cessation of refugee status.” She said UNHCR’s role was only to make a recommendation based on its analysis of conditions in the country of origin and how they relate to the refugees’ reasons for flight.

That only four states had agreed to implement cessation as of 30 June did not in any way indicate that UNHCR’s recommendation was premature, she insisted. At an April 2013 meeting of host states held in Pretoria, “some states underscored that, for various legal, logistical, practical or other considerations, they are not in a position to apply the cessation clauses by 30 June 2013. Others have specified that, for the time being, they will concentrate on taking forward other components of the [comprehensive durable solutions] strategy, namely voluntary repatriation and local integration”.

Preparing for returnees

Meanwhile, Rwandan officials say the country is prepared to receive therefugees, and has developed a comprehensive plan to repatriate and reintegrate returnees. So far this year, an estimated 1,500 Rwandans have returned home following government-operated “go-and-see” programmes.

“The conditions that forced them to flee no longer exist,” Rwandan High Commissioner to Uganda, Maj Gen Frank Mugambagye, told IRIN. “The government has established three transit centres which are well equipped with shelter, education and health services. These people will be given packages for three months. We have mobilized the local authorities to receive and help them reintegrate into the communities.”

He added that for Rwandans seeking local integration in host countries rather than repatriation, the government will issue national identity cards and passports that will allow them to retain their nationality.

IRIN spoke to government officials and UNHCR representatives in several of the African countries that are hosting significant numbers of Rwandan refugees to find out how they are handling the cessation clause.

Countries invoking the clause

Malawi

Although Malawi is among the countries said to be invoking the cessation clause, the process is still in its early stages. According to George Kuchio, UNCHR representative for Malawi, the first step of informing the 660 refugees covered by the clause of their right to apply for exemption has just been completed, and the government has yet to decide what options it will offer for local integration.

“If there are people who still have compelling reasons for not returning, they’ll be given the opportunity to have their say,” Kuchio told IRIN.

However, the principal secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Besten Chisamile, was quoted in the local media as saying, “The situation in Rwanda stabilized long ago, and there is every reason for the remaining ones [refugees] to return to their home. We are working with UNHCR on ensuring we repatriate them.”

Malawi is host to a further 500 Rwandan asylum seekers whose refugee status has yet to be determined but who are unlikely to be covered by the cessation clause.

Republic of Congo

In June, the Republic of Congo announced that it would invoke the cessation clause for the 8,404 Rwandan refugees it hosts. They will now have to choose between voluntary repatriation, naturalization or applying for exemption.

“Those who fail to choose one of these options will be subject to the laws pertaining to foreigners’ entry, residence and departure,” said Chantal Itoua Apoyolo, director of multilateral affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.

Juvenal Turatsinzé, 49, who is among 2,500 Rwandan refugees living in Loukolela, in the northern Cuvette region, said: “We’ve been worried since hearing about the loss of our status. We’d love to go back to Rwanda, but the conditions that would allow us to do that willingly are not yet in place.

“There are often arbitrary arrests in Rwanda. There is no freedom of expression, no democracy. We don’t think the time is right for voluntary repatriation… There are no security guarantees there.”

He added, “I have already put in my request for naturalization as a Congolese citizen.”

Zambia

Zambia hosts 6,000 Rwandan refugees, about 4,000 of whom are covered by the cessation clause. According to Peter Janssen, a senior protection officer with UNHCR, the majority of these have applied for exemption, but most have been rejected. “Officially their refugee status has ceased, but the government has made it known that there will be a possibility for people to acquire an alternative status,” said Janssen.

“That still needs to be fine-tuned, but it is positive because, until a while ago, it looked like people would be left without a status and have to return to Rwanda.”

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe, which is also following the recommendation to invoke the cessation clause, is further along with the process.

Prior to 30 June, 72 cases comprising over 200 individuals who left their country before 1999 were identified as falling within the scope of the clause, out of about 800 Rwandan refugee and asylum seekers living in the country. Those unwilling to repatriate who qualify for local integration, either through marriage to a local or through employment in certain professions, such as lawyers, doctors and teachers, have been encouraged to apply for permanent residence or work permits. However, they cannot be issued permits until they are in possession of Rwandan passports, which the Rwandan government have yet to issue.

The majority who do not qualify for local integration but do not want to return home have already applied for exemption from the cessation clause. According to Ray Chikwanda, a national protection officer with UNHCR in Zimbabwe, only six out of the 60 cases that applied were successful. Those who were rejected have been encouraged to appeal.

“Our reading of the situation is that until there is a political consensus in the region [about invoking the cessation clause], these appeal decisions are unlikely to be released,” said Chikwanda.

Countries not invoking the clause

Democratic Republic of Congo 

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has said it will not immediately invoke the cessation clause for the estimated 47,500 Rwandan refugees it hosts, but will instead adopt a phased approach.

Rwandan refugees will first be identified, registered and asked if they want to return. Following a meeting in October, a repatriation plan will be drawn up. Julien Paluku, governor of North Kivu Province, where most of the Rwandan refugees have settled, told the Associated Press that refugees who do not want to return home will be allowed to apply either for a residence permit or for Congolese nationality, which may be granted on a case-by-case basis.

UNHCR has helped some 8,000 Rwandans return home from DRC since 2012 and says it will continue to assist with repatriation.

Uganda

Out of 14,811 Rwandan refugees living in Uganda, about 4,100 individuals fall within the scope of the cessation clause. However, the government has not invoked cessation because ambiguities in the country’s Immigration Act and Constitution would hinder local integration – an alternative to voluntary repatriation that host states are supposed to make available as part of the comprehensive solutions strategy.

For example, Article 12 of the Constitution bars the children of refugees from qualifying for citizenship, while sections of the Immigration Act effectively preclude refugees from qualifying for permanent residence or work permits.

“The government of Uganda has declared that, pending the resolution of the [legal] ambiguities and the charting of a way forward towards implementing local integration and alternative legal status, they will not be invoking the ceased circumstances clause,” Esther Kiragu, UNHCR assistant representative for protection, told IRIN. “They will, however, announce a date for invocation in due course once the road map is clearly drawn.”

South Africa

At a ministerial meeting convened by UNHCR in Pretoria in April 2013, South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs Naledi Pandor said, “The position of the UNHCR in relation to Rwanda has created anguish and uncertainty among the refugee community in South Africa”, suggesting that much work remained to be done to clearly articulate the reasons for the clause being invoked.

The South African government has since informed UNHCR that it will conduct its own research into existing conditions in Rwanda and consult extensively with the local Rwandan community before making a decision on invoking the cessation clause.

A local Rwandan refugee leader, who did not wish to be named, commended South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs for “welcoming Rwandan refugee leaders, listening to their concerns and fears of being returned to Rwanda, and sharing with refugees the government of South Africa’s position around the cessation clause”.

ks/kr/nl/lmm/so/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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Outcry in Uganda due to influx of unexpected refugees

Posted by African Press International on July 19, 2013

Uganda unprepared for influx of DRC refugees

More refugees are expected as fighting continues in the DRC (file photo)

KAMPALA,  – Some 66,000 Congolese refugees have crossed into Uganda in recent days, following fighting between Ugandan rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and the Democratic Republic of Congo‘s (DRC) national army (FARDC). Their arrival has left the Ugandan government and humanitarian agencies struggling to meet the refugees’ needs amid funding challenges.

“The situation is very dire. It’s overwhelming… given the massive arrivals of these refugees, and sudden number of this nature, in an area with very limited preparedness to extend humanitarian assistance,” Mohammed Adar, country representative for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Uganda, told IRIN. “We don’t have the infrastructure to support this huge influx of this scale in an area [where] we didn’t have [a] presence in the past.”

Uganda already hosts more than 200,000 refugees and asylum seekers, over 60 percent of whom are from DRC.

The new refugees are in the western Ugandan town of Bundibugyo, where they are occupying five primary schools and other sites; they have been arriving since 11 July, when fighting broke out close to DRC’s border with Uganda.

Over-stretched resources

“These [Bundibugyo] villages were empty. They didn’t have any facilities. We are putting up water systems, sanitation, shelter, and providing food,” Charles Bafaki, a senior settlement officer with the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), which is coordinating the emergency response, told IRIN by telephone.

UNHCR says only 29 percent of its US$93.8 million operating budget for Uganda this year was funded by 19 June. “We appeal for financial assistance from donors and international community to support this huge influx of refugees,” Adar said. “The international community and donors have a responsibility to help Uganda share this burden.”

The ADF was formed in the mid-1990s in the Rwenzori mountain range in western Uganda, close to the country’s border with DRC. The rebellion was largely contained in Uganda by 2000, with reportedly just about 100 fighters finding refuge in DRC’s North Kivu Province. However, the Ugandan government has recently reported that the group is recruiting and training  – with the support of Somali Islamist militants Al-Shabab – in eastern DRC.

On 15 July, officials said they were struggling to relocate the refugees to a newly established transit centre, near Bubukwanga Subcounty, Bundibugyo District, about 28km from the DRC-Uganda border. “They are currently occupying schools, churches, people[’s] gardens, verandas, and causing tremendous problems for the host community,” UNHCR’s Adar said.

The agencies say the refugees are in dire need of humanitarian assistance and relief services.

“While food and supplies have arrived, the huge numbers of people and their wide distribution has made it difficult to provide services,” Adar added. “The main concerns at this point are water, health and sanitation, and shelter.”

The UN World Food Programme has delivered enough food for 20,000 people for five days, and more food is expected to arrive, UNHCR said in astatement issued on 15 July.

Uganda’s military says it has beefed up security at the DRC-Uganda border to ensure the ADF rebels do not infiltrate the country.

More refugees on the way

Meanwhile, UNHCR also says it has experienced an increase in the number of Congolese refugees crossing into Uganda’s southwestern district of Kisoro, following fresh fighting near North Kivu’s provincial capital, Goma, between the M23 rebel group and FARDC troops. According to Congolese officials, an attack by M23 on 14 July was repelled by FARDC; however, fighting continued on 15 July.

“The situation near Goma is a big concern. It’s definitely going to cause problem for us,” UNHCR’s Adar said. “We have received over 1,000 refugees at our transit centre in Kisoro in the last few days. These are coming in as a preventive measure. We expect more new arrivals to cross as a result of the Goma situation.”

so/kr/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

———–

 

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Overnight in Za’atari camp in Jordan

Posted by African Press International on June 24, 2013

ZA’ATARI CAMP,  – It is 9pm. The front entrance to Za’atari is lit mostly by the red and blue lights of the Jordanian gendarmerie vehicles parked at the entrance – little assurance of security to the 120,000 residents here, who say police rarely enter the camp. 

The place has the feel of a lively city – music plays from personal speakers; children scream giddily as they play football; friends and relatives gather in each other’s tents, chit-chatting into the night.

I stand on the other side of a fence that separates the sprawling city from what aid workers call “base camp”, home to the offices of UN agencies and NGOs, watching the camp like a screenplay.

A few young refugees call out to me, interrupting my daze. We speak through the barbed wire until they insist emphatically that I join them in their tent for a proper chat.

The tent is sparse, but clean and spacious; lit – with fluctuating power – by a network of crisscrossing wires, illegally hooked up to the electricity grid.

As we sit cross-legged on the floor – they have already offered me `labneh’ (yoghurt cheese) and olives, which they brought with them from Syria – they complain about inequitable shelter in the camp. Refugees use different and sometime fake IDs to get more aid, the father tells me; and those with money buy caravans while those who come empty-handed are left in tents, exposed to heat, dust, respiratory illnesses, fires and thefts.

“I heard a whole family died of a fire in the camp,” the mother says. Her neighbour, a widow, stops by to borrow a broom. Hers was stolen during a recent robbery in her tent, along with 5,000 Syrian pounds (US$50), four blankets and the few supplies she owned. Fellow refugees then stoned her tent while she was sleeping.

Desperation

“The dealings between us Syrians are dire,” the mother says, blaming it on desperation. “It’s every man for himself here,” her husband adds. “I feel I have no value any more, as if I’m not a human being.”

At 10pm, night staff of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) arrive from Amman in a minivan, joining another 45 staff from the International Organization for Migration, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children, who have, by now, a well-tuned system for welcoming new arrivals to the camp.

Tonight, there are 244 of them.

Many have spent days en route, trying to escape Syria. They include pregnant women and sick children. At the border, they are met by Jordanian soldiers, who board them onto buses to the camp. I watch as they unload their suitcases, some of them clearly exhausted.

One mother of five carries her crying toddler in one hand and a suitcase in the other as she tries to cajole her sleepy children to follow her towards the registration desk. She appears to be barely keeping herself together, but seeks assistance from no one.

Though I cannot quite put my finger on them, there are other emotions at play.

There is relief, almost elation.

“We’ve spent two years amid the fighting and the fear,” says one refugee. “This is the first day we can breathe easy.”

But there is also sorrow. Or rather, a sense of guilt.

One 19-year-old cradles her newborn, wrapped in a blanket. She travelled with her baby, literally just days old, from Aleppo, 500km north of Jordan, sleeping in a different village every night. Her husband, who fled to Jordan before her, has not yet seen his daughter.

The young woman is quiet and unexpressive while we speak. When I ask how she is feeling after her long journey, she smiles and says she is relieved to be in Jordan. But just as quickly, the smile falls from her face, as she remembers those still back in Syria.

Others appear nonchalant about their journey, which for some, involves dodging shelling and crossing a river-bed on foot. Desensitized, I wonder? In denial? In shock?

I sit outside the UNHCR registration office, speaking to each of the refugees as they wait their turn to enter. One old man warns me not to open the Pandora’s Box and walks away, but many others are keen to share their experiences. One after the other, they tell harrowing stories as I take notes. 

“Among us, there are stories to fill many more notebooks,” one man says.

What I saw… I’ll never forget

But the old man’s warning soon proves true.

One man in a white traditional gown breaks down in tears as he remembers the charred bodies of two of his cousins. The corpses lay in a pool of water on a street in rural Aleppo for seven days until relatives risked death crossing a checkpoint to retrieve them.

He dug their graves himself.

“What I saw, what I experienced, I’ll never forget,” he says, his sun-bleached face twisted in emotion. “There is a limit to what a person can take.”

Around 1.30am, the last cases are registered, and I head back outside, where four large “pre-fabs” have been set up to accommodate those who need a place to sleep until they receive a personal tent in the morning. They lie like lost souls on the cold, grey, concrete, the brisk air streaming through the windows – a rude, but accurate, awakening to life in refuge.

One man mistakes me for an aid worker and asks for more blankets for his grandchildren. They are a family of five and only have three blankets, he says. I have no blankets, but offer him my jacket. Ashamed, he politely refuses, and promises they will make do just fine.

By the end of the night, I feel lost in the refugees’ stories, emotionally confused and overcome.

I cannot imagine how they withstand the pressures of the long, tiring journey and the overwhelming procedures upon arrival: government registration, pink slip, vaccinations for your children, welcome package, food ration card, voucher for tent, blanket, sleeping map, questions, so many questions.

A rowdy crowd is gathered around the thin opening in the barbed wire fence separating the registration area from the camp. The new arrivals push their way through the mass of people, lugging their possessions and entering a new phase of difficulty, another unknown world.

“It hurts to think: How did this happen to us?” one elderly woman tells me. When I comment on the strength I have witnessed among the refugees, she responds:

“It’s eat or be eaten. You’re the wolf or the sheep.”

 

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The need to make the right choices

Posted by African Press International on June 7, 2013

Which interventions work best in emergencies

LONDON,  – Humanitarians working on health in crisis situations are faced with constant difficult choices. In a famine, which children should they select for supplementary feeding? In an earthquake, should they try to save most crushed limbs or should they amputate them? And – inevitably – what is the best way of spending scarce funds? Should they spend directly on health care, or indirectly on water, sanitation and shelter to prevent disease?

They choose as best they can, based on common sense and experience, and on their own agencies’ guidelines, but there is often little hard evidence of which interventions work best. Now a new funding programme, Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises, is putting up a pot of money for research which will strengthen the evidence base for these decisions.

“This field of humanitarian crises is a field where there really is a very limited evidence base,” said Jimmy Whitworth of the Wellcome Trust, which is co-funding the initiative along with Britain’s international development ministry, DFID. “This is tough stuff to do. To collect evidence in the face of disaster where there are many imperatives and many reasons to be acting very fast is hard, and people have been struggling to do this.”

But DFID and the Wellcome Trust feel it needs to be done. “What we know from all areas,” said DFID chief scientific adviser Christopher Whitty, “is that if you are doing something without a good evidence base, probably most of what you are doing is pointless, some of it’s harmful, and at best a lot of it won’t be very cost effective.”

Chairing the committee which will be selecting the projects is Paul Spiegel, who has a foot in both academic and humanitarian camps, as an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, and deputy director of programme support at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). He has just returned from Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq and says there are lots of questions which need an answer.

“Most of the research in the past has been in low-income, camp settings. But now in the last while, in the Balkans, Kosovo and now Syria, we are dealing with middle-income, non-camp situations. In Lebanon now, a quarter of the population are refugees. So there are a lot of questions that came up. How do we work differently?”

Modest funding?

The initial funding is for US$9.5 million spread over three years. The programme envisages two funding rounds, each of which could support 10-15 targeted projects, ideally collaborative research involving both academic and humanitarian communities.

“If you are doing something without a good evidence base, probably most of what you are doing is pointless”

The programme also intends to establish a rapid response facility which would allow pre-approved research projects to be set up, ready to go in the acute phase of future emergencies.

To many of those attending the launch of the scheme, $9.5 million sounded like a fairly modest level of funding, but they acknowledge that it is not always the most lavishly funded research projects which turn up the most influential results. Mark van Ommeren, a scientist at the World Health Organization, told IRIN: “This is a fantastic start, and I think the funding will increase over time.”

The Wellcome Trust’s Jimmy Whitworth confirmed that the present level of funding could change. “This is a bit of a toe in the water, or a finger in the air, if you like. We don’t know what the appetite will be for this.

Plenty of organizations came to the launch with applications ready in their back pockets.

Managing crush injuries

Anthony Redmond of Manchester University is looking for evidence about the best way to manage crush injuries after earthquakes. You can try to save the limb, which is time consuming and expensive, and if unsuccessful can put the patient at risk of death from infection or kidney failure. Or you can amputate and leave the patient disabled in what may be very challenging circumstances. Some emergency medical teams amputate a lot, some very seldom. And emergency teams aren’t usually around to see what happens to their patients later.

“There is a window of opportunity to save limbs,” Redmond told IRIN, “But I don’t know how wide that window of opportunity is. What is the point of no return? How much should you try to salvage one limb in one person as against saving the lives of many people? And that’s what we need to understand.”

Redmond’s research proposal would involve surgeons systematically recording data while operating in crisis conditions. Would they do it? “They do that in their home countries. If there is a plane crash here [in the UK], or a train crash, you are required to make notes. The medical note and the surgical note are part of the treatment and it is unethical not to do it. What we need to do is devise a method of collecting that data very easily and very quickly.”

Paul Spiegel’s experience in UNHCR suggests this may be still a challenge. “Many of our organizations have not been prepared to do research,” he says. “Still, in my own organization we try not to use the word `research’, because there is this attitude that `the money is there to help people’ – even if we don’t have the evidence to know if the money is actually helping them or not… We hope that this research will answer important questions that will guide the people in the field to make these decisions.”

eb/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Libya now helping the Syrians with refuge

Posted by African Press International on May 28, 2013

MISRATA,  – Two years ago Syrians in the relative security of their own country watched the unfolding crisis in Libya descend into a devastating civil war. 

Since then the tables have turned, and many of those same families find themselves in Libya after fleeing the Syrian conflict, which has left an estimated 6.8 million people (around a third of the population) in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.Most of the Syrian community in Libya, estimated at around 110,000 by government officials, are believed to have arrived over the past 18 months after having fled the Syrian conflict.

Shavan, a Syrian ethnic Kurd, arrived in Libya in January. “Alone, I left Syria at the end of 2011 leaving my wife and my daughter. I was looking for a place to live far away from the hell of conflict,” Shevan said.

After what he says was a difficult year in Lebanon, where he struggled to pay his living costs, he went back into Syria to pick up his family and then left for Libya.

The flow of Syrians to Libya, while far lower than the numbers seen arriving in Syria’s neighbours, started almost as soon as the Libyan revolution ended in October 2011.

Some come by air from Lebanon or Turkey, but most have arrived by road, heading through Jordan and then across the Sinai to the Libyan-Egyptian border town of El Salloum (in Egypt).

In the initial stages, Syrians with a passport could enter without a visa, but the rules have been tightened since the attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi in September 2012, after which only families, not single men, were allowed in.

Visa-less travel

From January this year, the coastal border crossing from El-Salloum to Musaid (Libya) has been closed to all non-Libyans without a visa, according to information from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Alongside this measure, the Libyan minister of interior invited his “Syrian brothers” who had previously entered the country without a visa, to register at any passport office to get a government letter confirming their asylum seeker status.

But it is still possible to get across the border without a visa. One Syrian who had recently entered Libya near El Salloum, and asked not to be named, told IRIN: “Smugglers charge US$500 to take Syrians across the border to Libya. I also saw some Syrian women who were using sex work to pay for their transit.”

“Suspicions about Syrian secret service infiltrations led the majority away from the operational centres managed by Syrian charities” Emmanuel Gignac, UNHCR Libya

Local NGOs in Libya run by Syrians were the first to provide relief, but many Syrian refugees have been reluctant to receive such aid.

“Suspicions about Syrian secret service infiltrations led the majority away from the operational centres managed by Syrian charities,” the head of the UNHCR in Libya, Emmanuel Gignac, told IRIN.

UNHCR registration

After an initial delay, UNHCR started formally registering Syrian asylum seekers and refugees in September 2012.

By the end of April 2013, around 8,000 Syrians were registered with UNHCR as asylum seekers, though because of UNHCR’s lack of a formal legal agreement with the government, the asylum seekers cannot advance to the agency’s refugee status determination (RSD) process.

The majority of Syrian asylum seekers in Libya are in the second city, Benghazi, due to its proximity to the Egyptian border.

Large Syrian communities are also in Tripoli, mainly in the Suq Al Jumua, Janzoor and Hasham areas, while ethnic Kurdish Syrians in the capital have established a base on the outskirts in Ben Ghashir.

Syrian charities provide support and some aid. “You can ask their help to register your kids in the local schools or to get medical assistance,” Bilal*, originally from the Syrian town of Hama, told IRIN.

The delivery of items such as blankets, mattresses and kitchen cooking sets is carried out regularly by Syrian organizations along with the Libyan organization Al Wafa and international agencies like UNHCR, the Danish Refugee Council and the Italian NGO CESVI.

Visiting UNHCR teams also assist the Syrians in Tripoli and Benghazi. The agency has opened a Centre for Community Development for vulnerable cases, and set up a hotline for Syrian asylum seekers.

The call centre receives around 40 phone calls a day – often appeals for medical or cash assistance, according to UNHCR associate RSD officer Valda Kelly.

The presence of Syrians in Benghazi has created some tension, and recently the city’s commission in charge of regulating foreign labour, immigrants and refugees called on the national government and congress to reduce the number of people coming into the country to avoid security, economic, political and social risks.

Why Libya?

Despite the distance from their home country, many Syrians cited a lower cost of living and greater job opportunities as the reason for travelling to Libya, rather than the more common Syrian refugee hubs like Jordan and Lebanon. Some also had spent time in Libya before the Arab Spring, when most foreign nationals were evacuated.

But living costs remain a challenge for many in the Syrian community: “I pay 600 dinars (US$465) a month for an apartment and I barely earn 900,” Ali who had fled from Duma, on the outskirts of Damascus, told IRIN. 

The poverty of many has given rise to practices seen elsewhere in the region: “Syrian women have been offering themselves as brides to the Libyans because they have no alternative for their survival,” said Mohamed, a Syrian refugee living in the coastal town of Misrata.

Other Syrians in Misrata confirmed this was happening. “In Benghazi Syrian girls are called `sheep’ for their low price. Even regular men already with one wife can afford a new young wife,” another Syrian told IRIN.

Shiite fears

Many Syrians told IRIN the Libyans had been welcoming. Ahmad, a Libyan civil engineer working for an Italian company in Misrata, told IRIN: “They are our brothers as they still suffer what we have experienced. They have every right to remain in Misrata.”

Local officials in Misrata told IRIN there are about 5,000 Syrian refugees in the town.

Misrata, known as a base for anti-Gaddafi militia activity, is awash with Gaddafi-era weapons, and locals say a blind eye is turned to Syrians buying the weapons for export.

Some local reports in Libya say former revolutionary fighters in Libya, particularly from Benghazi and Misrata, have been travelling in the opposite direction to join the anti-government forces in Syria.

Not everyone is welcoming though. “Because of my Kurdish name, I was threatened often at ordinary checkpoints because Libyans thought I was not a Sunni Syrian but a Shiite,” said Shavan.

Syria’s now two-year conflict began when people, largely of the Sunni majority, began protesting on masse against President Bashar al-Assad, of the minority Alawite sect (Shia), and has become increasingly sectarian as the violence has increased.

*not a real name

np/jj/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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Nakivale is home to 68,000 refugees and 35,000 Ugandans – piloting mobile courts for refugees

Posted by African Press International on April 25, 2013

Nakivale is home to 68,000 refugees and 35,000 Ugandans (file photo)

KAMPALA,  – Uganda’s government and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have launched a pilot mobile court system to improve access to justice for victims of crimes in Nakivale, the country’s oldest and largest refugee settlement.

The magistrate’s court, whose first session began on 15 April, will hear cases of robbery, land disputes, child rape, sexual and gender-based violence, attempted murder, and murder. The project – a collaboration of the Uganda government, UNHCR, Makerere University‘s Refugee Law Project (RLP) and the Uganda Human Rights Council – aims to benefit some 68,000 refugees and 35,000 Ugandan nationals in the settlement.

“With the nearest law court currently 50km away in Kabingo, Isingiro, access to justice has been a real problem for refugees and locals alike. As a result many fail to report crimes and are forced to wait for long periods before their cases are heard in court,” said a UNHCR briefing on the programme.

The mobile court will hold three sessions a year. Each session will last 15 to 30 days and hear up to 30 cases. Officials hope to extend the project to other refugee settlements in Uganda to enable more refugees to access speedier justice.

“Most of the courts are far away from the settlements, and refugee complainants faced challenges of transportation for themselves and witnesses,” Charity Ahumuza, programme manager for access to justice at RLP, told IRIN. “With the courts brought to them, the cost of seeking justice is reduced. The courts will also reduce the backlog of cases that exist of cases that arise in the settlements.”

“Refugees have welcomed this initiative since it is about bringing justice closer to them,” John Kilowok, UNHCR Protection Officer in Uganda, told IRIN.

Operational challenges

Experts say the project could face a number of operational challenges, including a need for funding and a shortage of trained court interpreters. Uganda has over 165,000 refugees from the Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia and South Sudan.

“The settlements are far away, and distance in accessing the court is likely to become a challenge. Language, too, will be a problem. The service providers through UNHCR are conducting training for interpreters to help in this issue,” said RLP’s Ahumuza. “The sustainability of the courts, I believe, will depend on availability of finances. However, the judiciary continues to face financial constraints.”

Angelo Izama, a Ugandan fellow at the Open Society Institute, says the shortage of justice in the refugee settlements is a reflection of poor access to justice across the country, a situation that needs to be addressed.

“Improving the delivery of justice helps tremendously given that, ordinarily, the severe case backlog makes matters worse for nationals – let alone foreigners. The real crisis now is not providing refugees and nationals in western Ugandan fast relief but filling the many vacancies in the judiciary so that, nationally, justice is expedited,” he said. “While justice processes improved on our side can help communities – both Ugandan and foreign – live better governed lives, the ultimate investment would be in improving governance across the border.”

“There is need for a holistic approach to look at the refugee issues in Uganda. We have to look at policy, immigration and defence lawyers for fair trials. Will the suspects have access to defence lawyers, or will they be accorded with lawyers to defend them in court?” asked Nicholas Opiyo, a constitutional and human rights lawyer in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. “Sustainability is a very crucial element in this court… If they don’t put good and proper systems to support this court, it will be a waste of time and money.”

so/kr/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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